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Diocesan Boards of Education Measure

Volume 811: debated on Thursday 22 April 2021

Motion to Direct

Moved by

That this House do direct that, in accordance with the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919, the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure be presented to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent.

My Lords, the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure updates and replaces the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991, which provides the legal framework within which the Church of England’s dioceses engage and work with church schools.

Church of England schools are an integral part of our state education system. There are currently over 4,600 Church of England schools attended by some 1 million children. To put this in context, one-quarter of primary schools and over 200 secondary schools are Church of England schools, and some 15 million people alive today went to a Church of England school.

This Measure is necessary to reflect a number of significant changes to the education landscape over the past 30 years. The key changes made by the new Measure before your Lordships’ House reflect the current and anticipated future educational environment in which diocesan boards of education are and will be operating.

First, the new Measure makes suitable provision in relation to academies and multi-academy trusts to reflect the development of the school system since 2010.

Secondly, diocesan boards of education will still be able to be independent charities and, like other such charities, to be either incorporated or unincorporated. However, the new Measure will also enable a diocesan board of education to be a statutory committee of the diocesan board of finance rather than an independent charity. The option to be a statutory committee of the diocesan board of finance regularises the position for a number of dioceses which, as a matter of practice, already have similar arrangements in place which they have found to be a useful governance arrangement.

Thirdly, under the new Measure, each diocesan synod must make a scheme designating a body as the diocesan board of education for the diocese and must send the scheme to the Secretary of State. This simplifies the current system which requires the Secretary of State’s approval. The Department for Education has been consulted and supports this change.

Fourthly, the new Measure makes express provision for joint diocesan boards of education for two or more dioceses. Although we do not yet know how many dioceses will pursue this option, it was considered important that the new Measure provides explicitly for how such joint boards should be set up, structured and, if necessary, unwound, to facilitate more joint boards being set up in future.

The Department for Education and the Charity Commission were consulted on the Measure and the amendments to it, and any points raised have been addressed. The Measure passed with comfortable majorities in the General Synod. The Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament considered the Measure on 23 February 2021 and has reported that it considers the Measure to be expedient. It has issued a favourable report, which it has laid before the House. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his incisive introduction and acknowledge the quality and helpfulness of the General Synod’s briefing and explanatory notes. I also acknowledge the fine, experienced chairmanship of our committee by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.

One wishes the Measure well. It was interesting to hear from the right reverend Prelate the scale of the Church’s school numbers. I served for some 10 years as chair of a diocesan board of education and lifelong learning. For the board, our bishop was everything; the archdeacon too was always there for us. The small professional staff was vital. One saw first-hand the Church’s gift of schooling to those 19th-century far-flung settlements and communities of the heartland—cefn gwlad. The Church admits the humblest. We pioneered a first: a joint Roman Catholic and Church in Wales high school, which remains a success, in an urban industrial township. One’s education portfolio and three administrations in the 1970s were helpful in all this.

As a diocesan chair, one always paid tribute to lay members. Mostly female, our lay members brought much wisdom, insight, mature judgment and common sense—dedication indeed. With them, it was always a case of “Everything for the child”, for the child’s safety and for their future. There was also a shrewd understanding of the teaching force as well.

The right reverend Prelate might agree that paragraphs 101 and 102 in the comments and explanations on the right to attend and speak are relevant and of importance. The General Synod is illustrative of democracy. In paragraphs 127 and 128, under the heading “Final Approval”, we are given the bald, transparent voting figures for all three Houses. With more than 50 Westminster years’ membership, I appreciate good majorities.

In conclusion, my query to the right reverend Prelate as he delivers this Measure is: will he elaborate a little more on Section 18, which is headed “Guidance”? Here the references to the Archbishops’ Council come across as perhaps somewhat opaque, so could he please elaborate? Might he also say a little more about the right to attend and to speak? That is so relevant and so important.

My Lords, I am chair of the Ecclesiastical Committee. As the right reverend Prelate has said, this Measure came before our committee, and we considered it. It was extremely straightforward and, without any delay, we deemed it expedient.

My Lords, the comments and explanations document produced by the General Synod’s legislative committee explains that:

“The Diocesan Boards of Education Measure updates and replaces the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991 … which provides the legal framework within which the Church of England’s dioceses engage and work with Church schools.”

Providing further explanation, the committee says:

“The Measure enables DBEs to be a statutory committee of their Diocesan Board of Finance and provides clarification of the existing two options for the constitutional form of DBEs”.

The Church of England has established many schools that have educated tens of thousands of students of all races and faiths. All the schools are charitable entities and are properly monitored by the charities board. I recommend that these schools should continue to operate as they have been set up.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords who have spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, asked about the Archbishops’ Council. The Archbishops’ Council is the standing statutory body established by the National Institutions Measure 1998 to co-ordinate the work of the Church of England more broadly, so it is a very suitable body to give guidance. If the noble Lord is content, I will write to him on the rights to attend and speak. I assure him, however, that those rights will continue to be upheld.

I thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and indeed the whole Ecclesiastical Committee, for the work that they have done on this Measure and all the work that they do for us on Church of England Measures. I thank the noble and learned Baroness for her chairing—indeed, this measure was expedited very speedily when we presented it to the Ecclesiastical Committee.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, for his kind comments on the Church of England schools and our role in education. The House may be assured that we are fully committed to maintaining this work and continuing to improve it in every way that we can while seeking to uphold the very highest standards of education in every area that we are responsible for. With my thanks to noble Lords for their comments, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.